There’s a certain smarminess that exudes from most late night talk show comics, which is why it’s never really surprising when they become embroiled in sex scandals (I’d apologise for bringing it up again, Letterman, but I’m really not all that sorry). The interviews feel more like a battle of wits that are always rigged in the host’s favour. After all, you can always just cut off your guest and refer to your wing man for a drum roll or make a puppet dance if your material isn’t going that well. As such, it’s pretty damn refreshing to find a chat show set up that puts the guest in the forefront, particularly when all the guests are comedians and presumably have a better strike rate on the light entertainment front than soap stars and reality TV wanabees.
Melbourne comedian Jenni Townsend and her Andy Richter-esque sidekick (though only in the sense of being a comic) Ben Stevenson have constructed a pretty cushy platform at which local comedians can chat and spruik their shows, away from the windy flyer market that pops up every year outside the Town Hall. Located in the plush back room of cocktail hotspot Madame Brussels on Bourke St, the event feels like a casual night out with friends, without the burden of having to actually generate the conversation yourself.
Townsend is an affable and confident host who’s happy to take a back seat when necessary, but also comfortable in steering proceedings toward interesting shores of conversation. The chemistry between her and Stevenson makes for a cosy display that’s light and enjoyable, though not particularly edgy.
The main downside of the show is that it’s inherently a pot luck affair, with the real burden of entertainment placed squarely on the shoulders of the evening’s guests, who change every night. That’s not to say that the hosts aren’t amusing in and of themselves, but they’ve crafted the affair so heavily around the showcasing element that there is the possibility of a stale half hour were an awkward guest to materialise. Nonetheless, Wednesday night’s guests, Hayley Brennan and Alisdair Tremblay-Birchall, kept the rather small audience chuckling without pause most of the night; convincing more than a few to schedule the pair’s separate shows into their festival planners in the process.
The 10.30pm time slot is crucial to the show’s success, with A Non-Refundable Evenings’ charm the kind that would have a difficulty penetrating the defences of an unbuttered audience. The show is designed to be watched as a light wind-down from an evening overstuffed with festival attendance, so it’s probably best to pop along after another show when you’re making a night of it.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A Non-Refundable Evening with Jenni Townsend
March 28 – April, Wednesday-Saturday
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
March 28 - April 22
Beth Anderson has worked extensively in Melbourne's community television and radio sectors. Her reviews have been published in Melbourne University’s Farrago Magazine and on weekendnotes.com, and she was scout for the Melbourne branch of review site yelp.com.au.
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